One of the things about Christianity I found frustrating during a particular time when I was looking for things to be frustrated by was a certain lack of specificity. We’re invited to take up our cross and walk. To pray without ceasing. To be wise as serpents. To be image-bearers. Um, ok.
But what does any of that mean? Much of it is either metaphor or abstract language. People seemed to repeat the phrases often enough within a religious community to act like they knew what they meant. The ambiguity can also create an over-dependence on leadership figures who claim, implicitly or explicitly, to have it all figured out. One of these oft-repeated concepts, by way of example, is that of grace.
As an avid reader of harder literature and a former inner city school teacher, I sometimes like to think there’s not a whole lot that can shake me up. But there were two stories I came across this week that got to me. One was about a former professional football player getting out of prison after serving his sentence. His crime? He was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill a woman carrying his child. The woman died. The child survived, but grew up severely brain damaged and is now 17. The other story, more widely reported, was ISIS’s use of the citizens of Mosul, including young boys, as human shields, and their later systematic execution.
As I reflected on why these two stories struck me deeply, the answer was fairly simple. In this season of life, with a four-year-old son, part of my ego-identity is that of father. And beyond that, it took us years to be able to conceive going through several rounds of testing, tracking, and fertility treatment. If there’s a greater gift in life than parenthood, of being a caretaker and nurturer of a life, I can’t think of it right now. So to have these two stories, one part of an ongoing war, the other more domestic and intimate, of this level of desecration, was jarring.
One of the practices I engaged in for a long time is advocated by Julia Cameron in her book on how to get unstuck creatively called The Artist’s Way. It’s the practice of journaling three pages long-hand first thing out of bed in the morning.
There are no formal rules on what to write about, just getting the hand moving. She calls it brain drain. It’s a method of not only getting stimulated creatively, but of getting the clamor of voices that might stifle creativity out of the head and onto the page.
One of the things I noticed early on in my marriage is that my wife and I have a very different natural relationship to time. By that I don’t just mean she’s goal oriented and I’m more process oriented, which is also true, but no, this was something else.
By way of example, by the time I woke up, my wife would have already run through a mental list of what had to be done that day, in what order, why it had to be done, the potential obstacles, possible costs involved, and so on. Psychologically, she’s future-oriented.
Recently, I was in a funk. Sure, some of it had to do with four nights of interrupted sleep and a weekend sickness, but some of it was just cyclical stuff. I get off track. The risk of that happening is much greater when I’m out of rhythm, but it can happen just the same. Getting stuck in negative thought patterns.
For me, it manifests mostly in interior monologue. The mental garbage. Resentment about a direction life took at some point. A memory will flash of a moment from the past that seems much better than whatever’s going on right now. Mental arguments with family members who aren’t even in the same zip code. Sometimes the voice in the head positions itself as a victim. Other times as the vindictive one imagining payback for some old slight.